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From Canton Trade to Colonial Hong Kong:
The Pearl River Delta before and after the Opium War

  • Date: 8 June 2017 – 31 August 2018
  • Venue: Special Collections Gallery, 1/F, HKUST Library
  • Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: closed

From 1700 to 1870, the Pearl River Delta changed its trade orientation from Macao to Canton to Hong Kong. The maps, city views, and photos in this exhibition reflect this change of settings, against the backdrop of an enormous change in the balance of economic and political power between China and Europe.

The display presents European coastal maps of Southern China and city views of Macao and Canton before the Opium War. They show the European side of the Canton trade system, which saw China as the Celestial Empire on one side, and a large number of competing European maritime commercial powers such as England, France, and the Netherlands on the other.

Early images of Hong Kong are revealed in a series of engravings and photographs. They include one rare set of early panoramic engravings of Hong Kong and its surrounding area, from Kowloon to Lantau; and a set of three landscape photographs of mid-nineteenth century Hong Kong recently acquired by the Library.

The last part of the exhibition is dedicated to cartography. It consists of both Western and Chinese maps from 1800 to 1870, including two Western maps related to the First and Second Opium Wars. Two beautifully colored “traditional” Chinese maps, one printed one manuscript, are contrasted with contemporary Western maps, as well as with reproductions of other more “scientific” Chinese maps, to provide a deeper understanding of late Imperial Chinese cartography going beyond the simplified view of Chinese tradition versus European modernity.